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Six Strikes Program Could Impact Small Businesses

By Marcia Richards Suelzer, MA, JD | March 20, 2013

If you operate a small business that provides internet access to your employees and customers, you may find a warning popping up on your monitors, alerting you to the fact that someone your system has illegally downloaded copyright-protected material. That warning is part of the newly implemented Copyright Alert System (CAS).

The CAS, commonly referred to as the "six strikes program," is a joint undertaking between major content creators and Internet service providers, designed to reduce illegal downloading of digital material from peer-to-peer sites.

Since the advent of peer-to-peer computing, companies that create digital content--movies, television shows, music--have faced challenges to both copyright and revenue.


Napster was the first peer-to-peer network and touched off a firestorm in the music industry. By using Napster, people were able to download copies of music for free. The music industry responded and in 2001, after only two years of operation, the original Napster was forced out of business. (The name lives on as a fee-based provider.) However, the genie was out of the proverbial bottle. Soon sites dedicated to downloading movies and television shows, as well as music, were spreading across the web.

Copyright Alert Systems Seeks to Educate Consumers

In an effort to stop, or at least lessen, digital piracy, the major movie and music creators and the five major Internet service providers (ISPs) have joined forces to put into place a monitoring and deterrence campaign. Under the auspices of the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), an independent company will be monitoring peer-to-peer network sites (such as The Pirate Bay) and flagging illegal downloads of copyright-protected material.

Once the peer-to-peer trolls have identified illegally shared content, the content owners will notify the Internet service provider that owns the Internet address. The ISP then contacts the customer with a warning (Copyright Alert).


If the idea of someone watching your downloads and telling your Internet provider about them makes you nervous, you can take some measure of comfort in the fact that system has been designed to try and maintain your privacy. The process is designed so that the ISPs are not involved with identifying the downloads. Moreover, the ISPs will not share information about the specific customer with the content owners.

Up to six warnings will be issued, giving the program its "six strikes" nickname. The first two times that illegal downloading is detected, the customer will receive an educational alert. After that, each Alert ratchets up the language and the potential consequences. After the fourth alert, the ISP may start to punish the offender. The CCI notes that actions may include:

  • Reducing your Internet connection speed temporarily
  • Downgrading your Internet service tier temporarily
  • Redirecting your browser to a landing page until you contact your ISP, complete an online copyright education course or take another action determined by the ISP

Each of the major ISPs (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Verizon) is implementing the program in slightly different ways. You should contact your provider to obtain details regarding its implementation plan.

Small Businesses Could Inadvertently Receive Alerts

The agreement between the content providers and the ISPs focuses on detecting and deterring piracy by those with residential Internet accounts. Therefore, larger businesses or organizations, such as McDonalds, Starbucks or public libraries, are safe from scrutiny under the program. Because larger businesses are assigned Internet addresses from a different pool than that used for residential customers, the ISP can simply ignore reports regarding activity on those accounts.

However, small business owners and those with a home office are often assigned an Internet Protocol address from the residential account pool. If a report comes in on that account, the ISP will proceed to issue a Copyright Alert. This means that your business may find itself subject to warnings for the actions of an employee or a customer who used an open Wi-Fi account at your business.

If you receive multiple Alerts and you feel that you should not have, you can protest the action. Beginning with the third Alert, there will be a link to the Independent Review process that will be handled by the American Arbitration Association. There is a $35 fee for the review--but if you win the proceeding, your $35 will be refunded.


You have only 14 days to file for a review of an Alert. The Center for Copyright Information has information about the process on its Independent Review FAQ page.

How to Protect Yourself

The Copyright Alert System bills itself primarily as an educational, not an enforcement, program. Take a cue from that approach and make sure that you clearly indicate that your network may not be used to illegally download copyright-protected material. Post warnings to that effect.

Verify whether you have a business or residential account. If you have a residential account, you may want to explore moving to a business account. This would be particularly true if your business is growing or you have many customers who use your network. A business account will not only shield you from the Copyright Alert System, it may provide your business with additional features and functionality.

If switching to a business account does not make sense, you can explore implementing a VPN or setting up a proxy. Both will hide your IP address. And, a VPN offers the added security of encryption for all data exchanged on the Internet. Another option would be to install website blocking software. While these methods have advantages in terms of security, they add additional complexity and costs to operating your computer systems.

If none of these strategies appeal to you, you can always opt for the wait-and-see approach. It may well be that you will not get any alerts because only illegal downloading is being targeted. However, you may still want to visit the Center for Copyright Information to learn more about the program and what types of activities are being targeted.

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